Emergent properties and the context objection to reduction

Biology and Philosophy 20 (4):715-734 (2005)
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Abstract

Reductionism is a central issue in the philosophy of biology. One common objection to reduction is that molecular explanation requires reference to higher-level properties, which I refer to as the context objection. I respond to this objection by arguing that a well-articulated notion of a mechanism and what I term mechanism extension enables one to accommodate the context-dependence of biological processes within a reductive explanation. The existence of emergent features in the context could be raised as an objection to the possibility of reduction via this strategy. I argue that this objection can be overcome by showing that there is no tenable argument for the existence of emergent properties that are not susceptible to a reductive explanation

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Megan Delehanty
University of Calgary